Ervin Santana and Some New Kind of Weapon

If you’ve ever been on Twitter, Ervin Santana probably follows you. Or at least, whoever’s in charge of Ervin Santana’s Twitter account. That account seems dead set on making some kind of impact. The same can’t be said to the same extent of Ervin Santana’s agent, Jay Alou, whose account is decidedly less active, but just the other day Alou happened to tweet out something of particular interest, that caught the attention of many:

Santana’s currently a free agent without a home, and as far as we can tell there hasn’t even been much in the way of negotiating progress. Everybody has been waiting on Masahiro Tanaka, because everybody likes Tanaka better than the domestic starting pitchers on the market. Now that Tanaka’s been posted, the rest of the pitcher market should move forward, meaning soon Santana can start really talking money. In part to help entice suitors, Santana seems to be working on a new pitch. The idea is self-improvement, and it’s never a bad idea to improve.

You’ll notice we don’t know what the pitch is. We don’t know how far along it might be, and we don’t know how Santana might intend to use it, whatever it is. There’s this air of mystery and intrigue, which is kind of the whole point. Like we don’t know what Santana might be capable of, now. I have just a handful of thoughts that I’ll put in a list.

(1) If Santana’s working on a new pitch, it’s not weird that his agent would let people know. In that way, he can drum up more interest. It is, however, kind of weird that his agent would tweet about it, because potential employers won’t be making decisions based on what they see on Twitter. He should already be informing people in the game, privately. Twitter is more for fans, and fans don’t have any control over a free agent’s negotiating future. It’s not like it’s going to cause problems — tweeting it is probably harmless. And it could conceivably help create a buzz. But Twitter isn’t where you make a sales pitch.

(2) We hear about new pitches every spring. It goes along with guys being in better shape, guys making mechanical tweaks, guys raising or lowering their hands in the box. Most of the time it doesn’t seem to make a difference, but it always seems like it could make a difference, and it’s a big part of feeding chronic spring-training optimism. Santana, basically, is just getting a head start on that, while he’s still available to anyone with a big enough wallet. Instead of raising the eyebrows of one team and one coaching staff, Santana is tying to raise the eyebrows of an entire market. It would be interesting to know what effect this might have on his ultimate contract, not that we could ever actually know the answer for sure.

(3) One of the problems with analyzing the effects of adjustments is that adjustments are selective for players who might need to make adjustments. If you do well, you’ll probably stay the course. If you struggle, you’ll probably try to make a change or two in order to move forward. Santana, then, is a strange case. He’s coming off his best season since 2008, and it’s already been rumored that he’s looking for a nine-figure deal he’s not going to get. Santana, over the last year, has gone from rotation throwaway to desirable asset. His stock has risen immensely, because he performed well, and these ordinarily aren’t the kinds of guys you expect to be messing around. The positive angle is that Santana’s never satisfied. The cynical angle is that Santana shouldn’t be messing with success.

(4) There were, of course, some success stories with new pitches this past season. Rick Porcello started throwing a curveball and he started striking hitters out. Max Scherzer started throwing a curveball and he had good success against lefties. Danny Farquhar got another chance, this time showcasing a cutter, and he posted one of baseball’s highest strikeout rates. Sometimes a pitch can make a huge difference. Even for a guy who’s already successful.

(5) This isn’t entirely unfamiliar for Santana. Prior to 2007, he developed a lot more confidence in his slider. That year, his strikeouts picked up, but he allowed too many dingers. Prior to 2011, he worked on showcasing a split-finger fastball, having learned from Dan Haren. That year, he increased his rate of grounders. This past season, Santana seemed to lean more heavily on a two-seam fastball. He got more grounders and trimmed his walks. Santana’s always been a heavy fastball/slider sort, but he’s never been afraid to try changes.

(6) Given that Santana has leaned so heavily on his fastball and slider, you’d figure he’s probably working on a curveball or a new changeup or a splitter again. Maybe a cutter. Some sort of weapon for lefties. That would be by no means a bad idea, but it’s worth noting Santana hasn’t shown big giant splits. He’s been worse against lefties than righties, of course, but against lefties his slider has been a fairly successful weapon. The last three years, Santana’s splits show almost identical strikeout rates. His xFIP against righties has been 3.96, while his xFIP against lefties has been 4.05. There’s also a ten-point difference in raw FIP. Santana’s managed to keep lefties in check despite not possessing a true lefty-killing weapon, so as much as you’d think he might benefit from an additional offspeed pitch, there’s only so much better he could be.

In a few ways, Santana is less appealing than Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez. Certainly, he’s less appealing than Masahiro Tanaka. He’s long had a problem with home runs, and teams haven’t forgotten that as recently as one year ago he was given away by the Angels for nothing. He’s a power pitcher who isn’t exactly a strikeout pitcher, and last year was quite different from the year before. But one can’t help but be captivated by the idea of a pitcher having a new pitch in his arsenal. It makes the “what if-” game a lot easier to play, and it makes Santana feel like more of a mystery. There’s appeal in mystery, and Santana wouldn’t be the first pitcher to take a step forward after modifying his toolkit. Of course, it could go nowhere. Of course, Santana could make himself worse by tweaking when he shouldn’t be tweaking. But I know I’m going to want to see what this is, this new thing, and I know it’s a fascinating marketing tactic.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

57 Responses to “Ervin Santana and Some New Kind of Weapon”

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  1. Antonio Bananas says:

    Has not graphs written all over it

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    • Kris Gardham says:

      NotGraphs readers, being the smartest and stuff, would’ve immediately grasped Alou’s pun usage and celebrated him as the Greatest Agent Ever.

      Sullivan obviously doesn’t get high-brow humour.

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      • Benjamin says:

        “NotGraphs readers, being the smartest and stuff, would’ve immediately grasped Alou’s pun usage and celebrated him as the Greatest Agent Ever.”

        celebrated him as, in the humble opinion of your author, the Greatest Agent Ever, Probably, the qualifying addendum appended as reference to the possibility, or, indeed, probability, that the very same aforementioned author may have forgotten, even if only fleetingly, one or more other agents with equivalent or superior claims to Greatness, or, indeed, to the probability, or, at least, possibility, that other even yet more remarkable agents remain unknown to said author, for the time being.

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    • RJ3 says:

      You must not read notgraphs, then.

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  2. JC says:

    Jack Parkman: What do you call that garbage?

    Rick Vaughn: It’s my eliminator. I’ve got another pitch. You get a piece of it, I’ll let you name it.

    [Vaughn pitches and Parkman hits the ball out of the park]

    Jack Parkman: I’d, uh, call it the masturbator.

    +14 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • stan says:

      I was just going to post this. It is a crazy and desperate move by Alou. As if any MLB club is going to change their bargaining position over his rumor of a new pitch. No new pitch means anything until you prove you can get major league hitters out with it.

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  3. Professor Ross Eforp says:

    Wasn’t this the name of that Metallica documentary?

    My money is on Gyroball. If I had to guess.

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  4. Rays' 7th Infielder says:

    Thanks for the article, Jeff. The refresh button was starting to get worn out waiting for some new content.

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  5. rathssuit says:

    Is it Dice-K’s shuuto ball that never made it through customs to the U.S.?

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  6. snydeq says:

    Data-mining the Twitter hashtag “#Nasty” suggests Santana will be doctoring the ball in sputum, toe fungus, deer poop, bloody used band-aids, and an ill-fitting bathing suit, resulting in backdoor twerk movement that “steps in on” somebody’s man.

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  7. ColKiner says:

    It would seem that the desparation of the agent and the decision of Tanaka to come stateside would bring the Royals back into play for Santana. They are the only team that doesn’t have to give up a pick sign him.

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    • bjsworld says:

      They may not give up a pick but they do lose a pick that they otherwise would have gained if he is resigned.

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    • Slackerjack says:

      But the royals _do_ give up a pick.

      The pick they would receive if any of the other 29 MLB teams sign Santana.

      The new hard slotting for draft pick bonus money was a stroke of genius for the owners. They have more or less destroyed the “middle class” in the free agent market.

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      • tottenham spurs says:

        No, that’s not correct. The Royals do not give up a pick to sign him. They give up a potential pick. Moreover, that potential pick is less valuable than an actual pick.

        There is a scenario where Santana waits until after the draft to sign. The Royals do not receive a pick in this situation and Santana would be free to sign a long-term deal with any team. Therefore, that’s pick’s potential value is tied, in part, on how likely this situation is to occur.

        Say you were Texas last year: would you prefer Matt Garza, with a reasonable talent outlay, or Ervin Santana, on a 3.5 year/50MM deal? In that situation, depending on Texas’ risk appetite and appraisal of Garza, Santana, the PV of the draft picks, and the PV of the prospects involved, etc etc…Santana might make sense.

        Anyway, the point is–if ST comes and goes without Santana getting the deal he wants–he might paradoxically might gain leverage by waiting. Moreover, if his agent were to convince the Royals that this is their plan, the Royals might extract more value by signing Santana and forgoing the value associated with the potential draft pick, since that draft pick’s value is now next to nothing.

        All of this has the net effect of making the market for mediocre aka “middle class” free agents more efficient.

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        • That Guy says:

          Oh, they give up a pick alright if they sign him. Maybe they’d rather the pick the bonus slot that Santana.

          At this point, can’t say I blame them. Unless he’ll sign for like 3-38.

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  8. studstats_13 says:

    His agent is just trying to spark some buzz around him. He probably just say Santana play catch throwing a knuckle ball and saw an opening.

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  9. Nick says:

    Gotta be the vulcan grip changeup

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  10. Matt says:

    Ervin is a head case. I got into words with him at Dodger Stadium a few years back. Granted, I was being obscene – but he let me get into his head.. When he was standing on deck waiting to bat, he engaged with me and of course the surrounding fans took my side. We badgered him. He couldn’t throw a strike the next inning. Scoscia came and took him out, and Santana pointed at me during his walk back.

    Head case. Maturity problems. Can’t handle pressure. Can’t handle a heckling fan. I’m sure other teams know this. He needs a Kansas City type situation. The freeway series dynamic might be worse than usual for a visiting team, but any big market will gobble the guy up alive.

    -31 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Matt says:

      Also, Garrett Anderson told me I was an idiot and went up and hit a double. Same game. And I was heckling Garrett worse than Ervin by a mile.

      -21 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Joe Blow says:

      Sounds like you’re a head case too. The weirdest part is that you believe that his pitching problems in the next inning had anything to do with the obscenities you hurled at him.

      No, the weirdest part is that you spin this non-incident into “head case. Maturity problems. Can’t handle pressure.”

      If you’re shouting obscenities at a baseball player at a game, you have maturity problems. And your analysis is laughable at best.

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      • Belloc says:

        Tut-tut. I saw Happy Gilmore. A good heckler can wreak havoc on an athlete’s psyche.

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      • Matt says:

        Joe Blow Me. Human’s are just that. Human. He said the words to me “YOU ARE DISTRACTING ME”. I was right over their dugout. We had a 60 second conversation.

        But I don’t care what a bunch of nerds who have never played the game think. I know the truth. You guys are too close minded to realize that there are elements that won’t be calculated into a simulation or a projection.

        But I digress. Apparently no one can ever have a bad day at work, be distracted or have something else negatively affect their performance. We are all machines.

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        • Robert Hombre says:

          Once, during 2012 Spring Training, I approached Santana and said, “Did you know that you’re a bad pitcher? It’s true. Matt and I had a conversation about it – you remember Matt, right?”

          Santana recoiled, as if attempting to retreat from his past. A player who had only ever been festooned with praise and good wishes at visiting ballparks, this lone memory of vicious hectoring at the hands of noted psychopath Matt returned when I so much as mentioned the name.

          “Yes,” conceded Santana, eyes flitting wildly for any escape from the trauma. “I am. You’re right. I don’t pitch well.”

          “How poorly? I don’t think a 5.63 FIP on an anomalously high HR/FB rate is out of the question, you doubleplusungood baseballer,” I pressed.


          He then proceeded to post a 5.63 FIP on an anomalously high HR/FB rate.

          Baseball players don’t adhere to statistical models. Nerds.

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        • kiss my GO NATS says:

          No, but statistical models describe a players Skill level, tendancies and behavior better than scouts do alone.

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        • RJ3 says:

          Wow, do you really assume that NOBODY who frequents this site has ever played baseball?

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        • Josh says:

          ah yes. the age old “you nerds never played the game!” argument. does your HS or D-III career equip you to analyze the psychology of MLB players? mine doesn’t.

          I don’t necessarily disagree with you. but what the nerds understand that people like you don’t, is the amount of information contained in a sample size of 1.

          and I used to heckle players too. it was fun… when I was 12.

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        • Robert Hombre says:

          Also, I forgot:

          Then Ervin Santana ravished me.

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        • Joe Blow says:

          “Apparently no one can ever have a bad day at work”

          7 ip, 2 er. Doesn’t sound like he had a bad day at work.

          Yes, people have bad days, get distracted or whatever. And all the time, fans think that the obscene things they yell really get into player’s heads. It’s silly, immature narcissism for you to think that your particular obscenities affected Ervin’s performance.

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    • Franco says:

      Did the Dodgers win?

      Because you might not have ever played an MLB game, but you have 1 career WAR if so.

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      • bjsworld says:

        The new market efficiency. Fill the stands people like Matt. Give them season tickets. Will only cost you a few grand per. Sit back and watch them ridicule the other team into submission.

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        • Joe Blow says:

          Unfortunately the stands in every stadium in every sport are full of people like Matt. I also have a feeling that he doesn’t limit his obscenities and ridicule to the opposing team. I’m sure when one of his favorite team’s players doesn’t run out a grounder to his satisfaction, he has to deal with Matt’s torrent of his very mature obscenities.

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    • Ervin Santana says:

      Fine sir, you seem like gentleman and a scholar. I remember a couple games against your precious Dodgers, though. Both times, I faced Derek Lowe. That guy’s a grinder and an all around great guy. You know you’re in for a challenge when that guy takes the bump.

      The thing is, I think you’re changing the story to make yourself seem important on the internet. Back in 2007, I did come up to bat and have a bit of trouble the next inning. I allowed two runs and hit a guy. But Mike didn’t pull me, he left me in for the next inning and I gave up a hit. All together, I went seven strong and gave up two runs.

      Keep coming to games. Ballplayers appreciate your support. But remember, you don’t get to the highest level of anything if a drunk fan can get in your head. Back in Winterball, someone literally slaughtered a goat in front of me. They wanted to curse me. I struck out the side because I’m a boss.

      As you can tell, i’m not great at the internet. I just double posted.

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      • Joe Blow says:

        Santana went 7 innings and gave up 2 runs??? Even though Matt completely shook him with that his withering torrent of obscenities? Geez, now I don’t know if he’s a head case, or has maturity problems or if he can handle hecklers. I just don’t know what to believe!

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      • Derek Lowe says:

        You better recognize when I take the hill, Ervin! Get that friggin masturbator pitch you been working on outta here. I’m the sinker slider king!

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      • eckmuhl says:

        Perhaps the game in question was his 2006 start, and not ’07. In that game Santana was indeed roughed up, and Garret Anderson doubled. But the facts beyond that still do not line up. Santana was tagged for 5 runs in the first inning, before he ever had a plate appearance of his own. After batting in the top of the 2nd, Ervin actually faced the minimum for the next 3 innings before being pulled for a PH leading off the 5th (no doubt b/c the Angels were down 5-0).

        Santana never started in Dodgers Stadium beyond the two contests in ’06 & ’07.

        Therefore, (besides the fact that Matt’s mind projection commentary says far more about him than anything about Santana) he either doesn’t remember the events in question with any real accuracy or is entirely full of it.

        +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

        • ab says:

          What you nerds can’t understand is that box scores can’t simulate what happened in a game.

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        • Matt says:

          Also, after the game. Matt kemp invited me over to his house for some drinks. I gave him some hitting tips that that ultimately fuelled his evenrual break out. I shouldn’t have my girlfriend at the time, rihanna, though. Dude totally stole her from me. Whatevs, I was shipping off to Afghanistan under special request from president bush to find osama bin Laden. Mission accomplished haters. I totally got inside his head. Right before i took him down with a sweet round house, we had a 60 second conversation about how I was totally destroying hid jihad against america, but that if all Americans were like me, maybe he was wrong.

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        • Matt says:

          So, in conclusion, do not give Santana a 100m dollar contract

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    • cass says:

      Please die. Or, better yet, never attend a baseball game or post on a baseball website again. There’s this cool sport called American Football. I bet you’d love the NFL. Try that instead. Spend Summer thinking of new taunts for the players.

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    • Mr Pops says:

      Santana has pitched at Dodger Stadium exactly twice:

      5/21/06 – after KC failed to score in the top of the first he was hit for five runs in the bottom of the inning. Obviously, those runs scored prior to him ever batting in the game. He was PH for in the fifth, exiting with the score still 5-0

      6/15/07 – In the midst of his age-24 season, the worst of his career (7-14 5.76), he DID bat in the top of the sixth in a scoreless game and DID allow 2 runs in the bottom of the inning (bunt single, ground single, fly out, HBP, 2-run single by Luis Gonzalez). He held the damage to those two runs, pitched a scoreless seventh, and exited the game behind 2-1. If THAT’s the evidence of having gotten into his head, I’m afraid the jury has no choice but to release the defendant. Pretty much all of his games that season contained innings considerably worse than that one. Are you to take credit for those as well?

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  11. Damaso's Burnt Shirt says:

    I say Ervin’s received Laser Eyes or learned to make “methylethylpropylbutyl” aka wood repellent from his body fluids.

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  12. Ervin Santana says:

    Fine sir, you seem like gentleman and a scholar. I remember a couple games against your precious Dodgers, though. Both times, I faced Derek Lowe. That guy’s a grinder and an all around great guy. You know you’re in for a challenge when that guy takes the bump.

    The thing is, I think you’re changing the story to make yourself seem important on the internet. Back in 2007, I did come up to bat and have a bit of trouble the next inning. I allowed two runs and hit a guy. But Mike didn’t pull me, he left me in for the next inning and I gave up a hit. All together, I went seven strong and gave up two runs.

    Keep coming to games. Ballplayers appreciate your support. But remember, you don’t get to the highest level of anything if a drunk fan can get in your head. Back in Winterball, someone literally slaughtered a goat in front of me. They wanted to curse me. I struck out the side because I’m a boss.

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  13. pft says:

    I disagree that fans don’t have an impact on what player a team signs. If public perception is high that a given player is valuable, then teams looking to make a signing mainly for the PR may be more interested in him than a player fans do not look upon favorably.

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  14. Luis Tiant says:


    How did you think your cogent “analysis” would be received?

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    • Matt says:

      Pretty much how they have been: by saying how impressed they are with my work and asking me to take over stewardship of fangraphs. It’s high time we had some cool guys running this site. You see, I’m a jock and as a jock it is my job to make fun of nerds

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  15. Lou Albania says:

    Dude went 6 IN and and allowed 1 ER in the other go, goddamn box score homunculus.

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  16. james wilson says:

    The most entertaining and astute hecklers are the ones who specialize in home plate umpires.

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  17. Razor says:

    The new pitch will probably blow his arm out.

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